by Laurel Bunker
(Editor’s note: This is the 1st post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.” We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.” – Hebrews 11:4
Like many of you reading this post, I am a lover of God and His word—not just the portions that may make me feel good about my identity as a child of God, but also the portions of scripture that stretch me and draw me to my knees in prayer. It is in those times that the double-edged sword of Hebrews 4:12 is working on me, “judging the thoughts and attitudes of my heart” as the Lord calls me into a deeper sense of awe as to His ways, precepts, and intentions which are always good and right.
In my early years as a new believer, God’s refining word was particularly important as I learned that my zeal for Him could often come across as judgmental when I attempted to share the good news with non-believers. Some of the mistakes that I made in my zealousness were innocent as I was ignorant and unlearned as to how to best share my faith with others. Other times, I just wanted to get the witnessing over with due to my own discomfort. The result was a half- hearted attempt at witnessing which, at times, made me look foolish.
Scripture has much to tell us about the importance of our soul and spirit’s posture as we consider bringing our sacrifices before the Lord. Whether they are physical or spiritual in nature, our hearts, motives, and intentions must be correct in order for them to be regarded as pleasing before God. The same can be said regarding our efforts to witness to others.
In Genesis 4, we find the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers with very different attitudes regarding sacrifice unto the Lord. The story of Cain and Abel offers us one example of what the blessings or consequences may be when we serve the Lord with a right or wrong spirit.
Genesis 4:2-5 reads:
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Notice that the scripture says that in the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the Lord while Abel brought an offering—a fat portion from some of the first born of his flock. According to biblical scholars, God’s issue with Cain’s was not due to the kind of offering he provided—a grain offering could be as pleasing as a meat offering, but it was the disposition of his heart and the spirit with which he brought forth the offering that displeased the Lord. That is why the Lord did not look upon the offering with favor. Notice what the Lord says next in vs. 6-7:
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’
The language here suggests that Cain had a choice regarding the posture of his heart in bringing forth his offering. All that was required of him was that he do what was right in the eyes of God as Abel did in bringing forth the first fruits of his flock. Instead, the very sin that God warned Cain to master took ahold of him and he killed his brother, Abel.
Despite Abel’s untimely death at the hand of Cain, his gift and his sacrifice and righteousness were remembered, as evidenced in Hebrews 11 and in 1 John 3.
What might you and I learn from the story of Cain and Abel in regard to being a faithful witness to the gospel?
- Witnessing done right is an honorable and faithful way to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Done wrong, it is a stress-filled, have-to-do it, make-a-disciple-in-five-minutes endeavor that can damage the Church’s credibility and an unbeliever’s view of God’s goodness and grace. Abel was a faithful witness to his God and was blessed for it, even in death.
- The offering up of our time, talents, and treasures to the Lord should be a joyful sacrifice, not a burden. We must guard our hearts and be careful not to offer half-hearted sacrifices in the work that we are asked to do in the kingdom. Like Abel, we must give with joyful, obedient hearts, knowing that pleasing God is our highest reward.
- Witnessing is not about competition. If we treat witnessing as a competition or as a means to draw attention to ourselves, we run the risk of worrying about what others might think of us rather than what God thinks of us and our offering. As a result, we can become frustrated, jealous, or angry as Cain did when others have success in bringing others into the kingdom. There is no need for comparison with others. The only things that the Lord desires from us is that we be “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto Him,” which is our reasonable service, and that our minds be renewed so that we think right thoughts and maintain right motives as we witness.
As we seek to please the Lord out of a heart of love and obedience to Him, drawing near to Him daily in prayer, worship, and study of the word, we will develop confidence in Him, deepen our dependence on Him, and grow in love for Him. And this will surely impact the way that we share the good news with others.
Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.